You may give them a kick when checking out a new car but your tires need much more attention than a love tap. Keeping your tires in good condition can do more than just keep you on the road, it will improve gas mileage, vehicle handling and reduce the risk of breakdowns or accidents.

Knowing what tire size and pressure you need is the beginning to keeping your tires in shape. The vehicle manufacturer's recommendations can be found in the glove-box, the trunk lid or on the door edge as well as other places. Tire pressure limits can be found in the owner's manual.

Under Pressure
Tire pressure is important in vehicle handling, gas mileage and load limits. The pressure is the amount of air inside the tire measured in pounds per square inch (psi) or kilopascals (kPa). Keep in mind that an increased load will put more weight on the tires and can affect the pressure limit. Checking the tire pressure is simple with a pressure gauge that can be found at your local auto or hardware store. Some air pumps used to inflate tires may have a pressure gauge as well. The maximum inflation pressure can be found on the tire sidewall or in the vehicle owner's manual.

Important: In order to reach the correct recommended tire pressure, the tires need to be gauged when they are "cold." This does not mean outside temperature, rather that you should check the levels when the tires haven't been driven on for more than three hours. Driving increases the pressure level from heat and friction and will give you an inaccurate reading.

Tread Softly
If you aren't drifting, you'll want to get the most traction possible while driving. Changing your tires when the tread has worn is important in preventing accidents or blowouts. There are indicators on your tires that will let you know when they need to be replaced. You'll see raised pieces of rubber throughout the tire between the grooves. Another way to check is placing a penny upside down between the treads - if you can see Honest Abe's head - it's time to change your tires.

Keeping Your Balance
If you don't want your car doing the shimmy shake, you need to keep your tires balanced. This requires the weights on your tires being placed correctly to counterbalance any heavy spots on the wheel. An alignment will keep the tires correctly positioned with the vehicle's frame and will keep you driving straight. Both a balance and alignment require equipment found in a mechanic shop and should be completed by a certified technician.

Repair and Rotation
If your tires are all the same size, you can prevent uneven wear and tear by having them rotated. Your owner's manual should illustrate how and when to rotate your tires. If you have the correct tools and proper knowledge this is a maintenance technique you can perform at home, but relying on a professional's help is always a good way to go.

Sometimes you may notice low tire pressure even with proper maintenance, which could mean you have a puncture in your tread. A puncture in the tread can be repaired with a tire plug repair kit if the damage isn't too large. Any puncture to the sidewall cannot be repaired. A nice trick to finding the puncture involves removing the tire from the axle and slowly turning the tire in soapy water. If you see bubbles from the tread, that's more than likely the place of the puncture. It takes steady hands and muscle to plug the tread so make sure you're prepared to do the work if you take on the task at home.

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